Jessica Munoz ’19 Presents Compost Research Project to the Waste and Recycling Group

Winter Study always allows a period for students to make their academic year a little more unique and individualized, whether it’s by conducting a project, contributing to research, or participating in a class or activity for the month. This past term was no different, especially for Jessica Munoz ’19 who presented her project on what happens to food and other compostable items when outside of the dining halls to the Waste and Recycling Working group at the end of January.

“While I was initially thinking of focusing solely on composting outside the dining halls, the project also became about composting itself,” said Jessica Munoz, who began her research project on sustainability at Williams midway through her class, “Renewable Energy and Sustainable Campus” fall semester. Working with the Campus Environmental Advisory Committee (CEAC) and the Zilkha Center’s Assistant Director, Mike Evans, she found that 30% of waste on campus is actually food and other compostable products. Interested in knowing what the Williams community thought about composting, Munoz conducted a survey and found both expected and surprising results.

Compostable items such as the abundant coffee cups and sleeves found in all dining halls made up a good amount of the discussion by survey participants. Many take compostable coffee cups to libraries and other academic buildings, where they end up in the trash instead of compost bins. Currently, composting is only available in dining areas and at Eco-Café, behind the counter. While many students said they would be willing to compost the to-go coffee cups if bins were located on the way to classrooms, a number of faculty were unaware of the composting system in the dining halls.

While many respondents supported the idea of compost bins in academic buildings, there are challenges associated with expanding the composting program across campus. “There is a concern that adding compost bins [outside of dining areas] would increase pest problems,” said Evans. “…Compost bins would require a shift in operations which could potentially have staff time and therefore, budgetary implications.” Evans also mentioned that expanding composting would require buy-in from the larger Williams community. “Again, not necessarily huge barriers, but barriers nonetheless,” Evans added. “And while it’s great that Dining has shifted all of their to-go items to be compostable, the problem isn’t solved if we don’t have a holistic campus solution with compost bins in locations outside of dining halls.”

Munoz thinks strategically placing compost bins would help keep the number of additional small but increase the composting rate. Locations like the Science Quad, in front of Hollander and behind Paresky on the way to Greylock Quad are all high traffic areas with potential for success. “This change, [however,] is only tackling the recycling part in ‘reduce, reuse, recycle,’” Munoz said, adding that she hopes to implement signage to encourage students to use mugs rather than compostable cups if they plan to stay in the building, as the survey also revealed that many use the to-go cups when not actually on-the-go.

Munoz’s project resulted in a second launch of the dorm composting pilot. Small compost bins are now in Morgan, Prospect, and Woodbridge. A few residents from each building have volunteered to periodically collect the bins and transfer the compost to larger bins near Paresky. If you are a resident of one of these dorms and would like to be involved, please email mae3.

To learn more about composting on campus, click here.

Rio Salazar ’20 is the communications intern at the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives.